by Bill Doll

February 4, 2015

Whether you give speeches, write speeches, work with D&E on speeches or write one yourself before you give it, here is a one-minute read on how to write a one-minute talk – or, frankly, any talk, up to and including the State of the Union. Though that undoubtedly takes more work.

The point is that the fundamental structure of a talk remains the same no matter how long or complex the remarks. Understanding that structure will help you craft and deliver your message effectively.

And isn’t that the point?

Just four rules to remember – plus one image.

Rule Number 1: What’s your message?

Every talk has a message. You speak to leave your audience smarter – from a finding, a report of an event, a warning, making a case or evoking a mood.

Your message is your talk’s North Star, the guiding light that shapes what you say and how you say it. And it keeps your audience on track following you.

Rule Number 2: Keep it simple.

Use familiar words in your talk. Clear explanations, not obscure technical terms – unless they are so routine in your industry’s daily conversation that they aren’t obscure to this audience.

Don’t use a complex, abstract measure of, say, income, like “200% of the poverty level,” but a concrete, earthy “family of four struggling on $30,000 a year.”

But, note: simplicity is hard. That perfect bon juste rarely pops out instantaneously.

Case in point: It took Stephen Sondheim, the famed Broadway composer and lyricist, all the way until the opening night of his “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” to find the show-stopping number – “Comedy Tonight” – that launched 900-plus performances and captured a Tony for Best Musical.

So: have a message. Keep it simple, as difficult as that may be.

Rule Number 3: Repetition is good.

Why is repetition good? Because your listeners cannot re-hear what you are saying. They depend entirely on your voice to understand you – it’s enunciation, it’s pacing, it’s conversational change in tone and volume. So tell them, and tell them again.

Rule Number 4: Practice. 

Sorry, no shortcuts here. Nothing beats practice.  And out loud. Not in your head.

It calms your nerves. It focuses your audience on what you’re saying – not on what you are stumbling to say.

So: That’s it. Four rules:


(See? Repetition.)

That one image I mentioned?  It’s your listeners’ ears.  At every step, their ears are all they have to take in your message.  Clarity, simplicity and repetition make your message easy on the ears and the brain.

Finally, here’s a checklist to help you organize your thoughts: Be sure to have –

1) An Introduction

You cannot avoid a beginning. Make it grab attention.

2) A Takeaway

Let your listeners know right away what your message is. That will help them follow what they hear.

3) Sign Posts

Keep giving them verbal road signs that help them follow your talk (“I’ll make three points…. For my first point… Next I want to discuss… In conclusion…).

4) Evidence or discussion points in support of your message – e.g., evidence, examples, facts, logic, quotes.

Yes, we know you are brilliant, but you still need evidence to back you up and make you credible.

5) A Conclusion

It’s a big moment. It’s your last chance to nail your message. So find a killer quote, stat, or anecdote. You want them to walk away remembering your takeaway – better yet, talking about it.

That’s it. One minute to a better talk. But, the truth is, it’ll take you hours, not minutes, to build it right.

But it will be worth it.